Ray Clay’s Memories
During my school years, passing by the brickworks was an everyday experience. My earliest recollection is the lovely smell of bacon and eggs cooking – the workers would clean off their shovels, place the bacon and eggs on them and then hold them over the open fire til cooked.
I started my working life in the early war years and would take any job that looked interesting, gaining all kinds of experiences on the way. The local brick yard was always a good between job because the always needed workers – the pay was low and the work was hard. It was during these years that I accumulated quite an experience of brick yard work having done every job in the place finally finishing up as a maintenance engineer and worked there until it closed.
In those days all the machinery was run by steam engines, The men who maintained them looked after them with pride – you could eat off the floor, All paintwork was cleaned regularly and all the brasswork polished and you didn’t dare enter these buildings unless invited.
Five boilers were needed to supply the steam. The main boiler man in my use was a Mr Gardner, a very gentleman who was kind to those labouring for him, He was also the main timekeeper. He had one of those elaborate silver pocket watches on a chain. The exact time would be set daily to the ‘pips’ on the radio. He would then use this to work the ‘Bull’, that was the steam whistle that was pulled at the beginning and end of every shift. The local residents set their clocks to it knowing full well it was the accurate time. The working week in those days was five and a half days a week, Saturday morning working was the norm! At the end of the Saturday shift the boilers would have to be closed down which meant that all the boiler fires had to be doused down and all the steam allowed to escape. The only workers then left for the weekend was the man who fired the kilns and the man who stoked the ovens.
A kiln was an oval shaped building and an oven a round one. The kiln was continuous on that it never stopped burning. Workers would be putting in the dried clay products at one end whilst others would be taking out the finished products at the other, with the fire burning in-between. Ovens on the other hand were round with just one entrance opening. The fire grates were situated all round the bottom on the outside. With ovens you can glaze the items like special chimney pots and sinks. In the early days, men who had lost a loved one would make a special plaque with their beloved’s details on so that it could be glazed and then put onto their grave. This was considered a perk of the job and if you look round local churchyards you can still find some of these.